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In Ojibwe, tcode’ imînaga’ wûnj meaning “like a strawberry” is a name for one of the cinquefoils. You can find at least seven species in our area of Central Ontario, with varying levels of edibility and medicinal quality. Around the world the most popular cinquefoils are tormentil and silverweed, neither of which are in Haliburton, Ontario.
In my herbal library the popular cinquefoils (potentilla SPP.) are the Pacific silverweeds (p. anserina) and the European common tormentil (p. erecta). Neither of which have a notable presence in Ontario.
Around Haliburton county, our three native cinquefoils are rough cinquefoil (potentilla norvegica), common cinquefoil (potentilla simplex) and dwarf cinquefoil (potentilla canadensis). Rough is the only commonly found one in this short list. In our local flora book “marsh cinquefoil” is included in their list, but it’s changed classification to comarum palustre. I was excited to find “march cinquefoil” last year and will do a separate feature on it, because even it has more mentions in our herbal library than any of our remaining potentillas!
Introduced and spotted recently here are four varieties: sulphur cinquefoil (potentilla recta), silvery or silverleaf cinquefoil (potentilla argentea), intermediate cinquefoil (potentilla intermedia) and another funny looking “strawberry”, mock strawberry (potentilla indica). I’ve observed the nonnatives most often, especially common are sulphur and silverleaf. They often show up in disturbed areas like gravel parking lots and lawns.
Buttercups are a toxic look-a-like! If you want to use cinquefoils in any way, be sure to learn to differentiate the two. Sometimes folks who’ve never seen a marijuana plant will think they’ve found pot too due to it’s “fivefingers”.
Related look-a-likes include avens, some roses, agrimonies, strawberries and lady’s mantle. And with possibly upward of 700 potentilla worldwide you never know what you might find escaped into the woods here.
Edible Uses of Cinquefoils
The berries are technically edible raw or cooked, but range from dry and bland to pleasant depending on the species. The one you’d most expect to taste good, the strawberry lookalike (p. canadensis), is one of the blander ones! Cinquefoil fruit is one of the least palatable of the rose family and will often be called inedible due to this.
Now as far as I know none of the locals cinquefoils have shoots, leaves or roots to be desired. Even though many if not all cinquefoils are mostly “edible” using the term loosely. Those hairs in the above picture don’t exactly stoke my appetite.
Medicinal Uses of Cinquefoils
Cinquefoil is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Astrigent. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage includes the roots and stalks of both rough and dwarf cinquefoil chewed for a sore throat or steeped for a decoction. This is similar to silverweed and tormentil.
The vastly more talked about European tormentil is also highlighted for its astringent action, with more of an internal emphasis, especially for gastrointestinal disorders.
Growing Potentilla SPP.
Pollinators that visit cinquefoils are overwhelmingly small bees and flies. Of course, they deserve some love too! Many of them are a beautiful metallic colour.
Shrubby cinquefoil (dasiphora fructicosa) is native to Ontario and while reclassified from potentilla to dasiphora it can be found more easily at native plant nurseries in Ontario. Smaller native cinquefoils are harder to find in shops, but if you find the native strawberry looking one (p. canadensis) it makes a unique groundcover as does its true strawberry cousin. The other two native cinquefoils are more like ornamental flowers.
There are toxic look-a-likes.
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.
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